A 5-year follow-up of general practice patients experiencing depression
Background. Depression is a common disease in primary care and produces significant morbidity in the community. Little is known about the outcomes of depression in general practice. Objectives. This research set out to explore both the longitudinal management and outcomes of depression as seen in general practice. Methods. The Medic-GP database is a collection of the medical records of 50 000 people seen in nine Australian general practices. It was used to follow the management of depressed patients over 4-5 years. Records from 1994-1995 were searched for depression or similar words. Individual records of patients whose notes mentioned depression were randomly selected and examined to determine if they were diagnosed with depression. Records of patients who were diagnosed as suffering from depression were examined to determine progress over the ensuing 5 years. Results. Six hundred of 5889 patients were examined in detail. A total of 382 patients (63.7%) were diagnosed with depression; 219 had been diagnosed during this time interval. The main findings were 64.7% of patients were female; 93.6% of patients received an antidepressant at some time during the study; 16% of patients were referred to a psychiatrist; 7.3% were hospitalized; 30% of patients who ceased antidepressants without a recurrence had courses of antidepressants of 3 months or less; and only 22.5% of patients had a single episode of depression. Conclusion. Unlike cross-sectional studies, this study has shown a high rate of prescription of antidepressants. GPs often prescribed short courses of antidepressants, and depression behaves as a chronic, recurrent disease.